Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cloth vs Disposable: An environmental debate

“You use cloth diapers?? Why?”

This incredulous inquiry is directed at my daughter, Jessica, and me on a regular basis. People just don’t get it.

There are countless reasons why we choose to use cloth over disposable diapers. So I’ll be addressing the various explanations over the course of the next few blogs. Tonight, I want to focus on the environmental repercussions of using one-time-use diapers.

I’ve heard the argument over and over again that washing cloth diapers causes more harm to the environment than using disposable diapers. I find it to be more of a rationalization than an actual intelligent argument. Here are the objections to cloth diapers and my rebuttals.

O. The soaps you use to wash the diapers are harmful to the environment.

R. First of all, it depends on the type of laundry detergent one uses. There are many environmentally friendly soaps to choose from. In the meantime, the waste water produced during the manufacturing process of disposable diapers is full of chemicals, such as biocides, solvents, furans, unreacted polymers, and dioxins, as well as heavy metals. Keep in mind that the production of disposables involves wood pulp, paper and plastics.

O. Washing diapers uses too much water.

R. Actually, it takes approximately 37% more water to manufacture disposable diapers than it does to wash cloth over the course of a child’s diapered years. 37% MORE! It is estimated that between 500 – 900 lbs. of fluff pulp and close to 300 lbs. of plastic is used to keep one baby diapered in disposables for one year.

O. It’s more convenient to just throw out a disposable diaper.

R. There’s that word again – convenient. Perhaps it should be the buzz word for the last couple of decades or so. Yes, I will admit, it is much easier to simply wrap up a disposable diaper and toss it in the trash, poop and all. However, it is also illegal to do so! Legally, you are not permitted to put human feces in the trash. Therefore, it is essential you wash out the disposable diaper before disposing of it. Hmm. The convenience factor has just dropped a notch. In defense of cloth diapers, isn’t it more convenient to simply reach in a drawer and pull a clean one out than to, gasp, run to the store at 2 a.m. when you suddenly realize the box of disposables you just bought a couple of days ago is empty? Once again, we’re looking at waste here – waste of gasoline when those inevitable trips become necessary. After all, there’s no predicting how many diapers your child will grow through in any given day. There are always those times when an upset stomach dwindles the supply rather quickly!

Those are some of the environmental objections I confront on a semi-regular basis. If you’re already using cloth diapers, you’re most likely confronting them as well. There is one more environmental issue worth mentioning:

Renewable resources – disposables use 90 times the amount versus cloth diapers
Non-regenerable resources – disposables use 8 times the amount versus cloth diapers

For instance, it takes approximately one full cup of crude oil to make a single one-time-use diaper.

Are you one of the people out there who consider yourself an environmentalist, yet you still are putting disposable diapers on your little ones? Or worse yet, the disposable pull-up pants? Do you support political candidates based on their stand on green issues? Consider the landfills. Nearly 1/3 of the landfills are packed with disposable diapers…none of which have decomposed as of now, which means the first disposable ever used is still resting somewhere in the bottom of a pile of waste, human and otherwise. That’s absurd when you really think about it.

Not only are the diapers not decomposing, but they’re also releasing harmful chemicals into the air, ground and water.
A matter of convenience? How about a matter of national (and international) concern? Not only is the environment paying the price of our laziness, but we’re paying with our health and the health of generations to come. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the health benefits and risks of cloth versus disposable diapers. I hope you’ll care enough to come back.

Keeping it green,


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